May 17, 2006

Wes Anderson; Charlie Kaufman

Filed under: criticism, movies — ted @ 3:40 pm

Head over to Slate once again: Armond White, in praise of the latest Wes Anderson movie, has dared to ask “Why does it take Wes Anderson so long to make a movie?

He doesn’t answer the question, but speculates that it might have something to do with self-importance. Referring to the “American Eccentrics” (the group of directors in which he includes Anderson, Spike Jonze, David O. Russell, Alexander Payne, Paul Thomas Anderson, Sofia Coppola) White writes:

That Anderson came up with this fanciful new-millennium fabrication suggests that he, and the other Eccentrics, want to work more, and that they need a mythology to define their own filmmaking era. Anderson’s movie-within-a-commercial recalls the antic film parodies staged as prep-school pageants in Rushmore–a poignant act toward wish-fulfillment and self-realization. That’s the impulse the Eccentrics have in common: They want to be appreciated as whiz kids–the gifted children of the counterculture.

This is over-reaching, and way off base. Another theory White dismisses, citing the fact that “their recent films have had uneven moments–even clunky moments that have led to box-office disappointment,” is a “perfectionist mystique.” This is better; but closer, I think, is the hyper-awareness that all these directors share: when you’re a “whiz kid,” you have to fight against the desire to make a movie that spans everything, and instead refine your focus while still filling each moment with multiple layers. This takes time, and it’s certainly not something that most filmmakers, especially those working in the studio system, have to worry about.

More on great movies:

In Sunday’s LA Times, David L. Ulin had this to say:

Charlie Kaufman is a great American writer. Let’s not equivocate or qualify this in any way. Yes, he writes for the movies; yes, his medium is the 100-plus-page script. But in all the ways that matter–his mastery of structure, his voice and vision, his recognition of the power of the word to remake the world–he stands with the finest writers of his generation…

Ulin goes on like this for a while, showering Adaptation with rapturous praise–which becomes a bit much at times. But I agree with his main premise: that Kaufman is really, truly great.

And, what’s more dear to me, Ulin makes a fine point about Eternal Sunshine, which answers a criticism of this masterpiece which I’ve frequently encountered:

But in Kaufman’s work, the structure is the story, not only shaping it but informing it, giving it meaning. “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” starts at the end and works backward not because it’s a neat device–although it is–but because it’s essential to the plot, which is about Joel’s slow reawakening to all that he soon learns he almost lost. How else could one tell this story? How else to depict the Gordian knot of love and loss? It’s an integrated sensibility, and without it, the movie’s metaphoric and emotional power would be lost.

At any rate, this is excellent reading.

Finally: apparently The Simpsons and Family Guy both mocked creationism last night, within an hour of each other–even making the same joke. It’s hilarious both times.


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